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South Africa, Nigeria Emerge Africa’s Highest Contributors to $26b Cigarette Butts Pollution

By Edu Abade

South Africa and Nigeria have emerged Africa’s first and second highest contributors to the US$26billion global costs of environmental pollution caused by plastics in cigarette butts and packaging every year.

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A statement by the African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA) revealed that its conclusion followed its analysis of research findings by the Global Centre for Good Governance in Tobacco Control, published online in the journal Tobacco Control.

It said the data analysis found that African countries with the highest smoking rate contribute the most to the cigarette filter pollution costs, estimated at $26b yearly or $186 billion every 10 years-adjusted for inflation-in waste management and marine ecosystem damage globally.

The researcher named South Africa, Nigeria, Sudan, Mozambique, Kenya and Ethiopia as the highest polluting countries in Africa, adding: “Although this amount is small compared with the annual economic losses from tobacco (US$1.4trillion per year) and may appear insignificant compared with the 8 million deaths attributable to tobacco each year, the environmental costs should not be downplayed as they are accumulating and are preventable.”

The estimate used data from the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Tobacco Atlas and the World Wildlife Fund.

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“Low and middle-income countries, especially in Africa with increasing smoking rates, relatively high plastic leakage, and poor waste management capacity; bear the brunt of this environmental burden,” the researcher said.

ACTA added that despite these estimates being conservative, the study’s findings underscore the urgency to mitigate tobacco plastic waste pollution, considering the potential health and ecological implications of accumulated toxic chemicals within cigarette butts.

Moreover, they advocate policies to shift cleanup responsibilities to the Tobacco Industry based on the polluters pay principle.

Leonce Sessou, Executive Secretary of ATCA, a core member of the global movement Stop Tobacco Pollution Alliance, stressed the need to hold the tobacco industry accountable, saying: “We must compel the industry to address its legacy waste and redirect these funds towards independent and effective campaigns in a manner aligned with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.”

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Recent revelations from the Global Tobacco Index underscored the deceptive greenwashing tactics employed by the tobacco industry and Sessou underlined the necessity for an immediate ban on cigarette filters in the global plastics treaty currently under negotiation, a position supported by the WHO in its submission to the treaty negotiations.

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Insisting that plastic pollution also affects climate change, which is now being tackled at COP28 of the UN FCCC, he said the Plastics Treaty Negotiations (INC3) was concluded in Nairobi, Kenya in November 2023 with the next negotiations slated for April 2024 in Ottawa, Canada.

According to the WHO, while smoking prevalence in the African region remains lower compared to other regions, the escalating rates of tobacco use necessitate attention and action.

ATCA is a non-profit, non-political, Pan-African network of civil society organisations headquartered in Lome, Togo. With 131 members in 39 countries, ATCA is dedicated to promoting public health and curbing the tobacco epidemic in the continent.

The alliance is an observer to the WHO FCTC Conference of Parties. It has a Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and is accredited as a regional non-state actor (NSA) with the WHO AFRO.

Joshua Okoria

Joshua Okoria is a Lagos based multi-skilled journalist covering the maritime industry. His ICT and graphic design skills makes him a resourceful person in any modern newsroom. He read mass communication at the Olabisi Onabanjo University and has sharpened his knowledge in media practice from several other short courses. 07030562600, hubitokoria@gmail.com

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